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Jul 10, 2007 09:52 AM

Filler-minimal crabcake recipe?

Does anyone have a good recipe for crabcakes that does not have much filler? I spent years living in D.C., and I am really picky about crabcakes. I don't want a lot of breadcrumbs or red pepper or other things meant to stretch the crab.

I'd like something with a binder and perhaps some spices, but just enough to hold the crab together. If possible, I'd like to broil them but I leave open the possibility of sauteeing. Thank you!

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  1. Here's a recipe from a true Maryland lady (RIP). She was the grandmother of one of my best friends.

    Blanche's Crabcakes

    6 saltine crackers, crushed
    1 tsp. parsley
    1 tsp. mayonnaise
    1 tsp. mustard
    2 Tablespoons melted butter
    1 egg, beaten
    1/2 tsp - 1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning (your taste)
    1 pound crabmeat, picked over and shells removed

    Mix all ingredients together and saute in a combination of olive oil and butter.

    I don't see why you couldn't broil, but they may fall apart on you. They really are mostly crab, with just a slight amount of filler.


    5 Replies
    1. re: QueenB

      Blanche's recipe is just about the classic. Personally, I think it loses something in the broiling, and suggest saute in clarified butter. I happen to like diced jalapeno peppers in crab cakes. By the way, plain yellow mustard works best.

      1. re: QueenB

        So many of the recipes I've seen call for much more than the 1 tsp. given here. Is 1 tsp. really enough?

        1. re: CindyJ

          Talking about the mayo?
          Yes, it is enough, trust me.

          The eggs and crackers do most of the binding. Your cakes will just be able to stick together, and will bind in the pan when you cook them.

          Try it out.

          1. re: QueenB

            Thanks! I plan to try it over the weekend. I'll let you know how they turn out.

            1. re: CindyJ

              Cindy, if your crabcakes seem a little too "loose" to you, form them and then throw them in the fridge for about a half hour. That should help stiffen them up.

              They will most definitely be loose when you put them in the pan, but they should hold together.


      2. I like the taste of crab more than the taste of Old Bay spice mix, so I don't use it.

        Curmudgeon's Crab Cakes

        4 tablespoon butter
        ½ onion, finely chopped
        ½ cup finely chopped celery
        ½ bay leaf, finely minced
        1 pound crab from claws
        juice of 1 lemon
        2 tablespoons Grey Poupon or Dijon mustard
        ¼ pound Saltines, crushed into fine crumbs
        salt and pepper to taste
        2 eggs

        1. Sauté the onion, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper in two tablespoons of the butter until soft.
        2. In a bowl, combine the onion mixture and the crab. Mix in the lemon juice, mustard, and ½ cup of the cracker crumbs. Taste and add salt and pepper.
        3. Add the two eggs and mix until incorporated.
        4. Form the crab mixture into 8 patties. Coat with the remaining cracker crumbs. Place on a plate and allow to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours.
        5. Heat the remaining butter in a large sauté pan. Fry the cakes in the butter until golden, then turn and fry the other side. Serve immediately.
        Note: These are too good to mask with tartar or cocktail sauce. If you insist, maybe you just don’t like crab.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Curmudgeon

          I like the taste of crab much better than I like the taste or texture of onion and celery in my crab cakes.
          If you use the lesser given amount of Old Bay, you hardly taste it. More of a background flavor.
          But, it's not required...just something our families always used.
          Different strokes for different folks!

          1. re: Curmudgeon

            A lot of commercially available claw crabmeat is mechanically picked, a process that often uses salt to extract the meat, so taste it when you use it for cooking. You may have to adjust the other ingredients in the recipe. I've gotten some "bargain" claw meat that was so salty I had to soak it before I could use it even for gumbo.

            1. re: MakingSense

              I need to recommend that you use the more expensive lump crabmeat. I think it makes much better crabcakes and the taste is better than the claw meat, IMHO.

              When I've picked crabs, I've frequently noticed that the claw meat naturally tastes more salty and less sweet than the backfin. I wonder why this is?

              1. re: QueenB

                I personally don't use claw meat in my crabcakes as Curmudeon prefers, I was just cautioning against it because of a picking method that is sometimes used. Clawmeat can sometimes be dry because it is often from claws that are "thrown" when crabs are cooked. It tastes different in the same way that all meats from different parts of animals do. It's simply Curmudeon's preference and it does make a more robust crabcake. I know many traditionalists who find upscale restaurant crabcakes to be totally boring, especially when they are broiled.

                Today's crabcake, especially as served in city restaurants particularly far from coasts, has become an upscale luxury product far from its traditional roots as fisherman's food in the crabbing areas in the Chesapeake and Gulf Coast. In those areas, crab pickers sent the lump and more expensive backfin to market to earn their living and often kept the rest of the meat for their own consumption. They made soups, crabcakes and other humble dishes. The prime restaurant uses were Crabmeat Imperial, Crabmeat Norfolk and stuffings for elaborate fish dishes.
                Even just 25 years ago, fine cookbook recipes for crabcakes always included bread and other ingredients in recipes - never just crabmeat. Those recipes aren't seen anymore and the old dishes have disappeared from restaurant menus. The traditions still exist only in old fashioned restaurants, private homes, church suppers and backwaters.

                Cooking evolves but I hate to see good things forgotten. Your crabcake with lump crabmeat tastes good to you and that's fine for you to enjoy them. I miss the wonderful Crab Chop I grew up with in New Orleans that has disappeared from menus there. I can still find traditional crabcakes on Maryland's Eastern Shore near my house there and I've learned to cook them from my elderly neighbors who used to work in the crab picking houses. I hate to see classic traditional American food die out because so many people have come to think that a new restaurant version is what it is supposed to be. I feel a little guilty every time I prepare "company" crabcakes with no bread and lump crabmeat because it's another nail in the coffin.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  If you don't use claw or lump...what do you use? Body meat? I've used that before as well, when I've picked my own. Just hard to catch blue crabs here in Texas, so I have to deal with whatever meat comes out of a can.
                  I grew up with the Delaware shore as my second home, so I appreciate the history lesson.
                  I like the recipe I listed above, from my friend's grandma with the saltines. I think crabcakes need that bit of binder. I also like to cook them in a pan with butter...again, I think they taste better.
                  Tell me about this crab chop...

                  1. re: QueenB

                    If I don't pick my own crabmeat or get one of my neighbors to do it for me (in which case it's whole crab), I'll buy lump or what's called "special" in stores here, a mix of lump and body. I use lump for "company" or fancy dishes and "special" for family, traditional crabcakes or to make a stuffing for a fish. You're kind of far from the TX Gulf Coast so maybe you don't have so many choices.
                    I'm sure you remember the traditional crabcakes of the Delmarva from the Delaware shore that were served at fundraisers by churches, volunteer firehouses and plain old restaurants. Like your friend's grandma's but with more saltines or with bread. Those folks now do make the citified-style crabcakes to please the tourists. They'll take the money but there's a lot of eye-rolling, especially when they ask to have them broiled. In the old days nobody had anything fancy like a broiler but everybody had an old cast iron skillet.
                    Yours must be a pretty old recipe because it doesn't use much Old Bay, which wasn't invented until the 1940s. Some of the older people don't use it at all if they stick to their old ways. And they are always cooked in a pan.
                    A Crab Chop is just like the traditional Chesapeake region crabcake but it's formed around a big crab claw so it looks like a meat chop. Sorta funny. Every New Orleans seafood restaurant had it on the menu until just a few years ago when tourists started asking for crabcakes and of course they wanted the version with no bread. There went the Crab Chop! A lot of New Orleans food has changed since tourism is such an enormous factor in the economy. Things on menus now that I never saw growing up, other things have changed so much I don't recognize them as the same dishes.

                    The "company" crabcake recipe I use with velouté as a binder (and lump meat) is basically the same as Crabmeat Imperial but with a stiffer version of the sauce. One day I made the Imperial sauce too thick and found that it bound better and had more flavor than any other binder that I had used before. I changed the milk to fish fumet, omitted the madeira and capers, etc. and there was the new recipe.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      I have found the "special" at Costco once, and used that for my crabcakes. They came out well. At most of the stores around here, my choices are claw and I go with the lump every time, because I don't really care for the claw that much (texture or taste).
                      I have no clue how old that recipe is that I have. I'm sure that originally it didn't have Old Bay in it, and somewhere along the line, Blanche changed the recipe to reflect the advent of OB. At least, that would be my guess, as she was born in the early 1910's, and I assume was cooking crabcakes from way back.
                      The crab chop sounds good, though a bit strange. I find that many CC on the Delmarva peninsula now contain way too much Old Bay. I'm assuming that's because of the whole citified crabcake phenomenon as well...the more Old Bay, the more authentic it must be, right?
                      Thanks again for all the info.

                      1. re: QueenB

                        Couldn't agree more about the heavy-handed use of Old Bay. Had some crabcakes at a local firehouse fundraiser on the Eastern Shore recently that made me want to put my face under the faucet! Tasted of salt, salt, salt.
                        About the only time I use claw meat is when I can get it cheap and I throw it into an ordinary gumbo, but then it pretty much cooks apart. Or I buy "thrown" claws and crack them to marinate for cocktail party snacks.

                        Some of the canned pasteurized crabmeat is "special" grade. Generally a pretty good value. I usually keep a can or two on hand as it keeps a long time in the fridge. Makes great traditional crabcakes but may not satisfy those who want luxury restaurant style. Matter of individual taste.

                  2. re: MakingSense

                    Here, here, Mom always made crabcakes that was a combo of "special" crabmeat and claw meat. She swore the claw gave it a sweeter taste.
                    Cracker meal, egg, Old Bay,mayo, salt, pepper, dry mustard, a little baking powder.and Worcestershire, form and set in ice box for about an hour.
                    Deep fried to a golden brown.Set them on the back of the bar and sell them to the customers for $.25 each

                    1. re: Hue

                      Word. Cracker meal -- not bread crumbs -- is key. So is the dry mustard. My family uses backfin, rather than lump or claw, fwiw.

                      1. re: charmedgirl

                        Looks from the profiles that you and Hue are from the Baltimore area. Seems like cracker meal or crushed saltines are fairly common there. Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline Counties around the Choptank seem to use bread as do people in Tidewater VA and in the VA side of the Chesapeake (which I know doesn't really exist). Also along the Gulf Coast.
                        I've had both the cracker meal and saltine versions and they're great.
                        Is this a really old recipe? Grandmothers? I love that it was good bar food for Hue's family.

            2. You can make the type of crabcakes found in restaurants using a velouté, a sauce similar to a bechamel but made with stock rather than milk. Use 2 T melted butter and 2 T flour combined in a saucepan. When bubbling, gradually add a cup or so of warm fish stock and stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat. Add whatever seasonings you like in your crabcakes to the velouté. You can enrich the velouté with egg yolk if you choose. Spread the crabmeat in a shallow dish and pour some of the velouté over it and, tossing gently with a fork until you have just enough to get the crabmeat to stick together, being careful not to break up the lumps. You want the sauce to coat the lumps. Form into patties and refrigerate for and hour or two before sautéeing in clarified butter. It is better if you coat the patties in bread crumbs so that they are crisp outside and soft inside. I suppose you could broil them but I find that they dry out on the outside before the inside is well warmed and both sides don't crisp.

              Traditional crabcakes in the Chesapeake Bay region include bread or saltines. The recipe on the Old Bay can calls for 2 slices of bread. Many recipes call for this much or more. It's not considered "filler" or a way to "stretch the crab" by people who once had all the crabs they wanted right out their back doors. It was just the way they always prepared crabcakes and still do. Upscale restaurants in cities have gradually changed the recipe to what many people now expect which is a crabcake with no bread. They're actually a lot harder to cook, they fall apart easily and give cooks fits. I'm rather fond of the old traditional style.

              5 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                It sounds like we like the same type of crab cake. Several summers ago I made crab cakes two ways. One way was using the recipe on the side of the Old Bay can, the other was using this recipe and I had my husband do a side by side taste comparison. This one won out hands down. The dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce actually give it a good zing of flavor without overpowering the crab. (he thought this one had the Old Bay in it!) If you want a crab cake with lots of sweet lump crab and minimal binder and filler this is the recipe you're looking for. We pay around $20 a pound for lump crab meat at a local specialty seafood store when it's on sale. These are a real treat.

                Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
                Recipe courtesy Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis, MD

                1 egg yolk
                1 1/2 teaspoons salt
                1/2 teaspoon pepper
                1 teaspoon dry mustard
                2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
                1 tablespoon mayonnaise
                1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
                1 pound Maryland jumbo lump crab meat

                Preheat the broiler.

                In a large bowl, combine the egg yolk, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, mayonnaise, and parsley. Then, gently fold in crabmeat (be careful not to break up the lumps). Shape into cakes and broil for 5 minutes.

                1. re: Axalady

                  Axalady, do you flip the crabcakes at all, or just broil one side?

                  1. re: QueenB

                    Hi QueenB. I broil them on one side. I do broil them a bit longer than 5 min. as I like a bit of crispness around the edges. I also form them and put them in the frig to set up at least 30 min before I cook them. I think it helps them hold their shape.

                    1. re: Axalady

                      I don't want to quibble on semantics, but Axalady is making Maryland Crab Imperial, not a crabcake. Without some sort of binder (crackers, bread, flour) it will not cake. Crab Imperial is usually broiled, and NOT turned over for obvious reasons. Have to admit, Imperial with jumbo lump meat is might tasty, and hard to find in restaurants. Agreed that OBS is often overused and ruins the dish...a little is all you need. The recipe could use some green onions, however.

                      1. re: OldTimer

                        A restaurant-style crabcake sticks together without bread/crackers/flour because you use something else that gets solid, usually egg or mayonnaise (egg plus oil). Axalady's recipe doesn't have very much egg or mayo so the crabcakes are probably pretty fragile and wouldn't be easy to sauté.
                        You are correct that some recipes for Crabmeat Imperial are very simple like this one and only call for the addition of egg or mayo and then the mixture is heaped into a dish or scallop shell and broiled or baked, usually with a crumb topping dotted with butter. They do generally have more ingredients such as the green onions you suggest or other things. The classic (and upscale) versions of Crabmeat Imperial are made with bechamels or veloutés. Neither has bread/crackers. Only the flour in the bechamel/velouté.
                        Frankly, the current upscale restaurant crabcake is so close to Imperial, they should probably just go back to that wonderful dish. Perfectly dressed crabmeat in a scallop shell. Who cares if it falls apart?

              2. This recipe is from the Arthur's Landing website (restaurant in Weehawken, NJ on the river). They posted it because they aparently got asked for it a lot. I have had the cakes there and they are great. I think they fulfull all of your requirements for minimal filler, no red pepper, containing spices, and being broiled.

                5 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat, blue crab
                2 large red onions, fine dice
                1 bunch celery stalks, fine dice
                1/2cup heavy cream
                5 eggs, whole
                1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
                5 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
                2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
                3/4 cup mayonnaise
                1/3 cup Dijon mustard
                1 tsp. salt
                1 tsp. black pepper
                1 tbsp. Chervil, chopped
                1 lb. Panko breadcrumbs

                Tools needed:

                Rubber spatula, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowl, mold to make crabcakes (not necessary), pound scale, sauté pan, canola oil or vegetable oil to sauté.

                In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, heavy cream, old bay seasoning, salt, pepper and chervil.

                Mix ingredients well.

                Add onions, celery, 3/4 of breadcrumbs to mixture. Fold together with spatula. Let mixture sit in refrigerator for 20 minutes to help breadcrumbs bind mixture.

                Add crabmeat folding in gently so we don’t break crabmeat into little pieces.

                Place bowl covered back in refrigerator for another 20 minutes. Take bowl out make desired size and shape then gently coat all sides with remaining breadcrumbs. Place sauté pan on stove medium flame when pan gets hot add oil to coat 1/8 inch base of pan, sauté all sides till golden brown. Finish in 500 degrees oven approximately 6 minutes.

                1. I use very little "filler", and what I use in the form of panko...The key to not having to use a lot, is to chill them before you fry or bake/broil them...